The financial collapse of Detroit is certainly sad, Detroit as the home of Motown now has the dubious honor of being the largest American city ever to seek bankruptcy protection in court. What’s even sadder is that the fiscal realities of this once proud city were ignored for so long, its demise was death by a thousand cuts.
Detroit’s woes didn’t happen overnight. It started in the early 1970s when the foundation and builder of the city, the car industry, took a one-two punch from the oil crisis and a deep recession. This opened the flood gates for a mass exodus from the city and the population began falling sharply. As Detroit residents began to flee the city, the tax revenue, of course, went with them. A city of 1.8 million in 1950 is now home to 700,000 people, as well as to tens of thousands of abandoned buildings, vacant lots and unlit streets.
By all accounts, the head-in-the-sand mismanagement of politicians and union officials is well documented. For decades, it seems, the fiscal numbers set off alarms bells, but in a political philosophy that has become all too commonplace, Detroit’s leaders lived in a state of denial, kicking the can down the road, hoping that some magical solution would suddenly appear, instead of admit that the city was dying.
It’s a harsh truth, but Detroit got what it deserved. It has been taking on water for decades and was feckless in plugging the holes. Bankruptcy is a painful chapter in Detroit’s story, but it is, as the governor of Michigan said, also an opportunity to stop 60 years of decline.
Let’s hope that Detroit, and other municipalities flirting with the same issues, remember the past so they’re not condemned to repeat it.
— Ron Neal, firstname.lastname@example.org